When one looks back at this decade, then most people will outline the iPhone 4, the first iPad, the Apple Watch, the MacBook Air and the AirPods as the front runners for the title of the gadget of the decade leave alone being Apple’s best work of the decade. That being said, I’d argue that it was the 2018 iPad Pro which was the ultimate expression of Apple as we know it and perhaps its best gadget of the decade especially after it got the iPadOS update earlier this year.
But if the iPad Pro is so good then the original one should be above it? Right?
I’d argue against the original iPad, which by the way, I used a lot during my post-graduation for taking notes. The problem with the original iPad was that it promised to do a couple of things better than a phone and a laptop — for instance, consuming videos, browsing the web, experiencing digital magazines, ebooks and playing games — however in the real world this wasn’t entirely true.
- For videos, you were restricted to using Apple’s iTunes or YouTube as streaming services weren’t pervasive. Apple’s iOS filesystem made it very hard to upload local videos which could be downloaded from third party sources. In most cases, for most people, the iPad wasn’t as convenient as a laptop.
- Apple declared war on Adobe Flash which was one of the standards for interactive content on the web in 2010. This meant that most web pages which didn’t have flash seemed incomplete. This wasn’t a massive issue as HTML5 became more ubiquitous, but many sites seemed incomplete in the early days of the iPad.
- Apple pitched the iPad as the gadget which would spawn a new breed of digital publishers. Many publishers hopped on initially with NewsCorp and Conde Nast developing purpose-built iPad specific experiences with unique interactive advertisements and videos meshed with text. But these ventures didn’t find favour with users as people preferred to consume their content via Facebook and Google. Aggregators like Zite and Flipboard also took off which spawned an age of aggregation over quality original publishing.
- Apple’s ebooks store dubbed iBooks never managed to compete with the might of Amazon’s Kindle store. On top of that, the coloured LCD screen of the iPad was a strain on the eyes of the users compared to the e-ink display of the Amazon Kindle hardware.
- Users essentially were either getting scaled up iPhone games on the iPad which weren’t nearly as good as games on PCs or consoles. This exposed the iPad’s lack of processing power initially. Some games weren’t even scaled as the app developers didn’t bother to optimise the experience for the iPad initially.
And over the course of the decade, Apple has fixed these issues with the iPad fuelled by the incredible frenzy around the iPad in its first few years, towards a mainstream computing platform which has matured thanks to the popularity of the iPhone and Apple’s advances in custom silicon.
Why did it take Apple so long to perfect a category it invented?
It took Apple 8 years to perfect the iPad. Compared to the iPhone, it can be said Apple took twice as long to perfect it considering many consider the launch of the iPhone 4 in 2010 to be the inflexion point for the smartphone.
- In the case of the smartphone, people were already using “so-called” smartphones from Nokia, BlackBerry and a bevvy of Windows Mobile-based gadgets. It was a core necessity and Apple’s cool and iPod heritage fuelled demand for it. In the case of the iPad, people were using Netbooks or expensive laptops, often, Apple’s own MacBooks, already and in its infancy, the iPad wasn’t able to clearly beat either like the iPhone was able to. It was an extra device that was un-needed for most.
- The iPhone was also a wild enhancement over the touch-screen phone because of the capacitive touch-screen and the miniaturised OS X based iPhone OS which we now know as iOS. For core tasks like email, mapping, browsing the web and entertainment, as long as you were on WiFi, the iPhone was better than anything else in the market. For the first time, you could just imagine using your phone and not needing the PC. In the case of the iPad, the concept of the touch-screen tablet/ laptop wasn’t a new one. Microsoft had tried and failed for years, nor the ecosystem for apps existed. While the iPad proved there can be a great touchscreen experience, the iPad just lacked fundamental productivity tools in the beginning.
- Apple also timed feature additions perfectly for the iPhone. In 2008, it added 3G just when 3G was taking off all around the world. It even added the App Store which no other phone had, opening the floodgates for millions of applications which turned the iPhone into a platform. Dedicated iPad specific apps didn’t show up till 2011 with the iPad 2 and this wasn’t a rapid process like that of the iPhone so Apple took years. For instance, Microsoft Office didn’t show up on the iPad until 2014.
- In 2010, Apple released the iPhone 4 with a wildly gorgeous new design which many people still believe to be the prettiest smartphone of all time. It also unveiled its first custom chip called the A4, it added a spectacular 5-megapixel camera on the back and introduced Facetime and a front-facing camera. It took Apple seven years in 2017 with the iPad Pro to be on the same level as a decent laptop. Finally, in 2018 Apple pumped it with the A12X bionic which would put even the MacBook Air to shame and would take on the Microsoft Xbox One S in terms of graphics. While Apple’s ARM CPUs had crushed mobile competitors based on ARM, for the iPad, it was competing against Intel’s wildly powerful x86 architecture. While Apple had innovated a lot on ARM including the introduction of 64-bit computing on the platform with the iPhone 5S and the A7 chip, it needed the instruction set to mature more for it to be true x86 rival in terms of compute — and that took time. In fact, even today, outside of the A12X Bionic there is no ARM based CPU that can compete with an x86 Intel or AMD chip including Microsoft’s S1 CPU which was introduced in the Surface Pro X. What Apple has achieved in both hardware and software is nothing short of spectacular because even the combined might of Microsoft and Qualcomm couldn’t achieve this.
- It took Apple until 2019 to mature iOS to be remotely in the same class as a desktop operating system with touch functionality and have apps like Procreate, Enlighten, Lumafusion and Adobe Photoshop which is based on the same code as the desktop photoshop. There were other things too — like a desktop-class Safari browser which could run web apps like Google Docs on which I’ve written this article. It also added file system of sorts which had made file management much easier. We also live in a more cloud-based world so grabbing files from cloud storage services is more agreeable and the advantages of the iPad battery life shine through.
With the iPhone, Apple had dipped its toes into a market ripe for disruption and it had the core technology to make the bold leap. It also helped that the market wasn’t as mature as the PC market which the iPad had to compete with.
So what makes this iPad Pro special?
- Apple’s 2018 iPad Pro is firstly a stunning gadget to behold. Like the iPhone 4, it is a combination of sleek stainless steel frame curved from the edges and just glass on front and metal on the back. As far as tablets go, they don’t look cleaner than the 2018 iPad Pro. The removal of Touch ID cements that. All of this is in a very sleek package that consistently delivers 10 hours of battery life.
- It is fast and furious. Powered by the A12X Bionic processor enables it class-leading compute performance that’s faster than any 2018 intel core i5 based notebook. On top of that, it has 1.4 teraflops of GPU power thanks to a 7-core GPU design that’s said to match the Xbox One S. Basically, it is more powerful than your average notebook, including the MacBook Air, that was launched alongside it.
- Then there is the “pro-motion” display with cycles at 120Hz and at 12.9-inches, it is just a gorgeous for both watching and editing content. It doubles as the ultimate Netflix machine while also being a great panel for playing games like Elder Scrolls Blades or editing videos on LumaFusion.
- Then there is the core software that has played catchup well. These days most of our time is spent within the browser and the Safari on the iPad Pro acts and behaves like a desktop browser than a mobile browser which was a common issue. For instance, I created this article on Google Docs within Safari. If I had to manage the Facebook page of my brand, I couldn’t do that on the iPad before iPad OS came about. I can attach my accessories via USB Type C and the iPad reads them. The file manager allows me to download files from websites and also run them on the iPad. In a nutshell, it behaves more like a PC.
- Then there is the Apple Pencil and Apple Keyboard which add much needed Microsoft Surface-like dynamism to the iPad Pro. The keyboard is spacious and clicky enough while the Apple Pencil charges intelligently by magnetically latching on and offers responsiveness close to Wacom styluses.
The iPad Pro is a culmination of what Apple has achieved with its vertically integrated model of custom silicon married with custom software. Apple has developed the iPad to such a degree that for the first time it can be called a MacBook replacement for many folks, not the extra third gadget that Steve Jobs originally pitched it as.
On top of this, sits a smart, private and very diverse platform for applications called the App Store. Apple is also building more services on top of this — like Apple Arcade, a fully ad-free subscription service for triple-A games, Apple TV+ which has already garnered Golden Globe nominations with the Morning Show amongst others. It is as Apple a gadget can get unapologetically but pushing efficiency.